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The Science of Motivation with Mark McKoy

When people ask why I’ve ventured into the corporate incentives market after building a successful life in sports, wellness, and public speaking, there is one word that comes to mind: “Motivation.”

Motivation is an integral part of external and internal success. So is having the proper mindset. Sports is an industry that teaches you both, and it is rare to find that anywhere else in society. This is why I tell every parent to put their children into sports at a young age, regardless of their talent level. Small victories, whether they be incremental improvements or just the satisfaction of minor accomplishments, have a major impact on both mindset and motivation.

I enjoyed a long and healthy athletic career–16 years and 5 Olympics in track and field, which is an eternity in my sport–because of the accumulation of small victories. Eventually, these small victories helped put me in a position to make an even smaller adjustment, which led to my biggest victory of all–Olympic Gold. After 13 years of competing against the best in the world, and coming oh-so-close to reaching the podium but not quite making it, a simple, one-inch adjustment to one of my feet was all it took to go from fourth place to the top of the podium.

For me, motivation is the same whether I am on or off the track. Not all victories need to be large to make an impact. In fact, sometimes the smallest wins at the right time can have a dramatic effect on both motivation and mindset. Small wins on a daily basis lead to big wins in the long run. Consistency is key. Embrace the victories. Don’t let the losses faze you. And remember, it’s ok to lose–even world-class athletes lose most of the time! The truly great athletes shrug it off and keep hunting for the little victories. To borrow an analogy from another sport, “Don’t focus on strikeouts, focus on base hits.” If you persevere long enough eventually you will hit a home run.

Motivation comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes, and often times there’s isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach or solution. The same can be said when dealing with motivation and incentives for your employees. To make sure you make the right move, make sure to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the incentive program you are going to implement, and what the benefits are from having these incentives. Remember, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is just that little “extra.”

When creating a well-established incentive that is guaranteed to motivate, keep these important points in mind:

Ease of Use:

People these days are fickle, and providing a motivator that is too cumbersome or hard-to-achieve may discourage some people from even attempting to hit goals. Small, incremental rewards work best. The key to incentives, just like training, is to keep things simple, and keep things consistent. This isn’t rocket science, it’s rewards.

Relevant Rewards:

In all walks of life and all areas of competition, be it on the track or at the office, it’s important that you are motivated by relevant rewards. Offering an “Employee of the Month” reward to a track and field athlete isn’t going to be effective; neither is offering a medal to a salesperson. Ensure your motivators are relevant in order to motivate your team to greatness.

On-Going Rewards:

Although this may sound counter intuitive coming from a sprinter, motivation is a marathon, not a sprint! The one thing in life you can’t cheat is time. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it, it’s the 10,000 hour rule. It takes time to fully develop the skills necessary to be good at anything.  My 10,000 hours took me 16 years. Discipline, consistency and perseverance are the key traits that as a leader you need to portray in order to motivate your team.


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